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A Restructuring Puzzle

Prompted by a question from a reader about the uses of Appreciative Inquiry (AI), I’ve spent some time today pondering the idea of restructuring organizations. Restructuring generally refers to a reconfiguring of the organizational chart by either eliminating or adding people, processes, departments, or organizational divisions.  Restructuring is often driven by a perceived need to turnaround the organization, to bring it back from the edge of disaster or oblivion.

In some cases, restructuring can be helpful, a pruning process that allows the organization to eliminate inefficiencies of outdated processes, re-shape the culture, and regain momentum. In other cases, restructuring is a reaction based on fear or panic, an attempt to recover from an economic blow or damage to the core purpose or business. Some organizations go through multiple restructuring plans, grasping at possible ways out of their dilemmas, destroying forward momentum with every cycle.

The question on the table is whether or not AI can be used in restructuring? My reflection as of this moment is, “Yes.”   A successful restructuring requires that organizations have a mechanism to create and re-gain momentum. It requires that leaders provide hope in the midst of change as well as create and sustain a culture of disciplined people with disciplined thoughts and disciplined actions. These actions are strategically directed at building on the core values and delivering results. AI can provide this as it focuses on remembering why an organization and its people exist, generates a vision of shared values and opportunities, and creates actionable change.

I suspect that many people believe that while AI can be generative, they still think it is the leader’s responsibility to decide how to restructure, reconfigure, or redraw the organization. And so the results of the AI process become one more piece of the restructuring puzzle for the leader rather than acting as the restructuring mechanism. The challenge for AI practitioners is to be able to describe the possibility of using AI as the method for putting the puzzle together, not just as a puzzle piece. My friends at Innovation Partners came up with the following description of AI for finding a path forward:

  1. What you seek, you find more of.  The more positive and inspiring the strategy development process, the more likely innovative ideas will emerge and shape your future direction.
  2. People commit to what they help to create. The more participative the plan creation, the more committed people are to implementation success.
  3. Prototype and empower. Enabling participants to identify, design, and try-out new ideas in real time – brings life, energy, and ownership to your strategy.
  4. Nurture a living strategy. Sustainability is ensured by a “less is more” approach – simplicity and strategic focus – thus balancing the need for planning with the desire for inspired implementation.

Yes, AI can be a cornerstone of organizational restructuring. AI balances the ability to build collaborative relationships with the need for flexibile and adaptable strategy. AI allows the organizaiton to stand firmly on its core values and cycle in a disciplined manner through the process of Discovery-Dream-Design-Deliver . . . over-and-over-and-over. As organizations go through repeated iterations of the cycle, they will discover new strengths, let go of the old strengths and processes that no longer serve them, build on what is working in the here and now, develop and test new ideas, and focus on ongoing renewal.

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